The last visit by a pope to Ireland attracted over one million people to the Phoenix Park in 1979 to hear Pope John Paul II speak for free.

But any future papal visit here could see attendees either being asked to purchase a "pilgrim pass" similar to that introduced for last week's trip to the UK by Pope Benedict – or lead to the state footing the entire bill.

The head of the Catholic Communications Office, Martin Long, did not rule out charging pilgrims to attend major outdoor events with the pope, as has been the case in the UK last week, where tickets cost up to £25 (€30) each.

He noted that the cost of any visit should "be seen in the context that the various places where Pope Benedict attends become the focus of global media attention in the run-up to his visit, for its duration, and after he leaves.

"I cannot speculate on the details for financing a visit here because no such visit has been announced... The length of a visit obviously influences the overall cost," he added.

Cardinal Seán Brady extended an invitation to Pope Benedict to visit Ireland in 2006. But a spokesman for the government refused to say whether the state would pay the entire bill for any papal visit, as "at the moment the issue does not arise".

The UK government has set aside £10m to cover Benedict's visit, which concludes today.